The Mormon Therapist on Kids Talking Anatomy

John Dehlinchildren, Humor, LDS, Mormon, mormon, sexuality 16 Comments

Natasha Helfer Parker is a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist and a member of the Church with 13 years of experience working with LDS members. Here she shares with us representative cases from her practice and insights she has gained from her work as a therapist.  She blogs at

So here’s a conversation I wasn’t expecting the other morning started by my 3-year old son and joined in by my 5-year old son as they were getting dressed for the day.

3: “Mommy, what is this?” Lifting his penis and touching his testes.
I feel my anxiety rising a bit but try to remember what I preach about staying calm and honest regarding sex ed.
“Those are your testes.”
3: “Testes?” Repeated this word several times giggling.
5: “Do I have testes too?”
5: “Where?”
“Under your penis – they kind of feel like small balls.”
3: Giving his own personal demonstration: “See, right here!”
3: “Do you have testes, Mommy?”
“No, only boys have testes.”
5: “What do you have?”
“I have a vagina and a vulva. Boys have a penis and testes.”
5: “What’s a vagina and vulva?”
This is when I realize we are in for the long haul.
“The vagina is a special hole that girls have. It is the hole that babies come out of. My vulva is what you can see from the outside – just like you can see your penis.”
5: “Do I have a special hole?”
“Well, we all have a hole in our bottom where our poopies come out of. Boys and girls. But only girls have the hole where babies come out of and that’s the vagina.”
3: “Vagina?” Likes to repeat things.
5: “Why do I have testes?”
“That’s where boys keep sperm.”
5: “What’s sperm?”
“They are like seeds that you will use someday to make a baby. Someday when you are a grown-up you’ll probably want to get married and have a family.”
5: “Does Daddy have sperm?”
At which point they are both satisfied and probably even bored with our conversation and run off together to play and eat cereal.
Phew! I survived. 🙂

Developmentally speaking, these are the ages when boys and girls start having normal and appropriate curiosity regarding their bodies and to develop the sense of what makes them different from the opposite gender. It is also when they are wanting to see a connection to their same-gender parent. My hope is that by offering correct terminology, by controlling my anxiety, and by being willing to answer questions simply but accurately we can start this lifelong process of sexual education. I’m hoping I can take every opportunity my children give me to make an impact on healthy sexuality. Most of these opportunities are not “planned” events. They just happen in our day-to-day lives.

What are your thoughts about how I handled this situation? Do you agree or disagree with my approach? Are there similar stories in your parenting experience? How did you handle them? Are there things you would have said differently? I welcome all comments…

Comments 16

  1. Well, my oldest just turned 5 (girl) and we’ve had a few very short run-ins. She frequently asks about mommy’s “boobies” wondering when she’ll get some. My wife has handled this gracefully, just explaining the facts. She has also started to notice the penis of my youngest son (1 1/2). Like you we just told her what it was and tried a bit to explain why he has one and she doesn’t. But after about a sentence or two she loses interest entirely.

    I have always thought that honesty would be the best policy, but I’m not sure what else to do. I thought perhaps an anatomically correct drawing of a man and woman would help clarify the points a bit. Not sure though.

  2. I heard a story from one of Bill Cosby’s albums recently wherein his encounter with his first two daughters over this didn’t go quite so well over. In the end, they wanted “wallie wallies” of their own.

  3. My experience with my kids has been that the willingness to talk is at least as important as the answers given. The more direct and honest we are, and the better we take cues from the kids (in terms of interest and attention span), the better we are.

  4. Attitude is everything. Having seen the less than optimal long-term results of a hush-hush “we don’t talk about that” approach that pretends “it’s not secret, it’s just sacred” while really wishing it’d remain secret anyway, in our house we have taken a very honest, simple matter of fact approach. Honest questions get honest age-appropriate answers without any nervousness or sugar-coating or euphemisms, and questions in return. “Do you understand?” or “Anything else you’re curious about?” Kids are very attuned to non-verbal parental cues, and they’ll sense if, despite mostly objective words, parents are nervous or uncomfortable with this topic. If we demonstrate a healthy, comfortable, well-adjusted, respectful attitude toward this subject when they’re little, then they’ll have a much easier time talking about it as they get older and the questions get more detailed and the issues potentially more complex.

    Our previous bishop once scolded the entire ward’s assembled adults during a 5th Sunday lesson for being afraid to talk to their children frequently and honestly about the whole topic of sexuality; he said “it’s clear to me from talking with your kids that you yourselves have no idea what’s going on in their lives. It’s now more dangerous for you NOT to talk to them frequently and honestly about this subject. So pull your heads out of the sand, get over your prudish discomfort, and talk to them. A lot more than you are now.”

    So Natasha I think you took exactly the right approach. All of my conversations with my kids have just happened in the ordinary course of life too. That’s best I think. And don’t ever let them see you get nervous about it. If you can talk about it as matter-of-factly as you’d talk about any other serious subject, you’ll be a huge influence toward helping them develop healthy attitudes themselves.

  5. My mother was always very honest and open with me on these things. In fact at times I felt a little too open and honest (aka when I was a teenager… parents and all that stuff…ew! haha) but I always knew I could go to her and ask questions and get an honest answer which was more than what she could say… he mother never told her anything. And when “that” time of the month started she thought she was going to die, when she asked her mom about it… her mother referred her to her older sister. How much of a “I don’t EVER want to talk about this” was THAT?

    I too try to be as honest and open as my kids will allow. I know they will one day be thankful for it, just as I am.

  6. That time of the month?

    My mother was horrified the first time. She went to her mother for help. Her mother told her it was normal, not to worry, when it stopped, it would mean she was pregnant. It stopped a few days later. Not a good experience.

    My only discomfort with Natasha’s story is referring to the vagina as a “hole.” I know “hole” is easy for kids to understand but when it’s used in reference to a person’s body, it’s usually not the least bit respectful. How about opening?? or maybe passageway?? or if we’re going for anatomically correct words, does orifice work??

  7. Wow I’m impressed. I have a 5 and 7 year old now. They were really curious how their 1 year old brother came out of mommy, and we dodged the question. I’ll try to follow your approach from here on.

  8. 1- Yes, I think as kids get older it can be useful to have a book on sexual education or anatomy to help you point out what you are talking about.
    2- 🙂
    Great opportunity to point out that different parts don’t mean better parts. Each is special in its own right.
    5- Great advice from your bishop. On the same lines, I believe this is the first time I’ve heard direction from a General Conference talk regarding sexual education of our children.
    6 & 7- My mother had a similar experience. She was raised by her father and no one ever bothered to tell her this would happen (including aunts or other family members). She describes it as pretty traumatizing.
    7- I hadn’t thought of “hole” as being an offensive term. Any thoughts on this? Do others find this term disrespectful? I used it also to explain the anus.
    Although I believe in using basic correct terminology (i.e. for basic body parts) we have to balance this with the goal of being understood. For example “orifice” might be appropriate for older kids but you’re still going to have to define it. When I looked up a few of these words in the dictionary I got “passageway,” “canal,” and “opening.” Any other ideas?
    8- Hooray!! 🙂

    Thanks for the great discussion so far.

  9. I have a 4-year-old boy and a 2-year-old boy and, in spite of my best efforts, we talk about penises nearly every day. Why, just this week we’ve discussed the following: whether it’s appropriate to show everyone your penis at the dinner table; whether you should ever suddenly and violently yank your brother’s penis in the shower as retaliation for some perceived slight; why mommy has no penis; that by definition no mommy will have a penis; that mommy can still go to the bathroom even with no penis; that mommy not having a penis is not deleterious to her health; and that just because the older one wears his older cousin’s cup (which he calls a penis protector), that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to go around hitting himself in the crotch area and pulling down his pants at the grocery store to show everyone his “penis protector.”

    I would say that discussions concerning penises are second only in volume only to discussions we’ve been having lately about “tooterooskies” (i.e., flatulence) and the correct protocols in that regard. It’s hard to say which one of those conversations my wife dislikes more.

  10. Yup Jimbob,except mine is now thirteen.My daughters and I are often entertained by way more info than we would choose to have.Clearly we have failed in our best efforts to repress this boy.

    The penis remains a source of satisfaction throughout life.


  11. @Wayfarer #14:

    Congratulations on your result! I’m sure he will be a happier, healthier, calmer, more well-adjusted boy, and will agree with your last sentence, as would any normal guy. LOL!

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